Helping Musicians; Jazz Foundation to the Rescue

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 10, 2006 | Go to article overview

Helping Musicians; Jazz Foundation to the Rescue


Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

America's most original contribution to the arts, Jazz has long been called an international language. But the force of its impact was especially dramatized when - during a fierce civil war in the Belgian Congo, like the one going on now - leaders on both sides suspended hostilities, declaring a truce as they heard that Louis Armstrong, the embodiment of the jazz spirit, was booked in their country.

But this worldwide recognition of our sharing the life force and joy of jazz does not extend to the increasing number of ill and elderly jazz musicians here at home facing evictions and in need of emergency medical care, but without resources.

Among them are not just players who, despite their appearances on many historic recordings, are not jazz stars. And even as famous a trumpeter as Freddie Hubbard was in a state several years ago when, he recalls, "I had congestive heart failure, my wife had lost her job and we lost our insurance. When it happened, man, I didn't know what I was going to do." However, he heard about the New York-based Jazz Foundation of America, formed by musicians and supporters to whom the music is a vital part of their lives. Since then, the foundation has taken care of rent arrears; provided sustenance, including food; and provided free medical care, including surgery, through the Englewood (New Jersey) Hospital and Medical Center's Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund.

Gillespie, who had more generosity of spirit than almost anyone I've ever known, was dying of cancer at Englewood Hospital when he said to his oncologist, Dr. Frank Forte, "Please try to provide the kind of care I'm getting for musicians who can't afford it." Until Hurricane Katrina smashed into New Orleans, the Jazz Foundation had been taking care of an average of 35 elderly jazz and blues musicians a week. Since the hurricane's devastation, there have been around 1,000 emergency cases concerning New Orleans players. Moreover, the foundation replaced more than $250,000 worth of new top-shelf instruments.

And with the financial help of Agnes Varis, also a vital contributor to Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Richard Parsons, the head of Time Warner, more than half a million dollars has been devoted to employ displaced New Orleans musicians in seven states where they've had to resettle. These gigs through the Agnes Varis/Jazz Foundation in the schools program include sessions in homes for seniors. …

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